The Outcome




I’ll admit it, I came to COP20 as a dewy-eyed, idealistic college student. After being immersed in the UNFCCC all semester, I was ready to see climate change tackled head on by the thousands of delegates that flew in from almost every country in the world. We came off the plane in Lima filled with excitement for the next two weeks.


I still felt the energy from attending the People’s Climate March in September. The EU had just announced its plans to reduce its total emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and, the previous month, China and the US, had jointly committed to addressing climate change.


The task for COP20 seemed simple enough: use voluntary agreements to create a draft of the Paris agreement. Even jaded COP20 attendees who I talked to felt that an agreement of voluntary commitments would be completed, even if the commitments were not very strong.


However, after two weeks of negotiating, the climate talks seemed on the verge of collapse. A day after the meetings were scheduled to end, a heated discussion ended in over 80 developing countries refusing to back proposals suggested by UN officials.


The delegates pulled a 32-hour marathon session to produce a modest compromise. With the overtime session, 195 countries agreed to adopt a four page document that explains the types of national climate targets they will need to deliver in the next six months.


Countries with the leading economies will submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by March 2015 and others will follow by June.


Still, most NGOs have called the agreement a weak one. A statement signed by Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Christian Aid said the agreement left the world on course of a warming of 4C or worse.


Countries do not need to explain how their INDCs are fair or ambitious. Instead, the UNFCCC will analyze the aggregate effect of all the pledges only a month before COP21 in Paris. Developing countries were placated with text including the importance of loss and damage. However, there is no concrete plan for raising the promised $100 billion by 2020 for developing countries.


Neither did Lima deliver concrete commitments to reduce short term emissions. Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative said: “The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency. Instead of leadership, they delivered a lackluster plan with little scientific relevancy.”


In the end, the UNFCCC is just one tool for combating climate change. Waiting on politicians may take too long. A ground-up movement may be our best bet to avoid disaster.

Outcomes From COP 20, Lima


The world gained momentum on a climate agreement going into Lima. A historic agreement was reached between the US and China going into COP 20. Pledges to the Green Climate Fund were on the rise and narrowing in on the goal on $10 Billion. Everyone knew going in that Lima needed to hole the proverbial climate agreement ship steady, and it did that. Nothing glamorous or jaw dropping came out of Lima, but the parties are in a position to meet the deadline for the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is much easier said than done, it is no easy task to get just under 200 countries to agree to a climate deal to limit warming to 2°C.

COP20 Main Hall (Lima)
COP20 Main Hall (Lima)

Some good things did come out of Lima. The President of the COP, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, highlighted three important outcomes: (1) $10 billion goal for the Green Climate Fund was met, (2) the Multilateral Assessment work as countries exposed themselves to questioning about their emission reduction plans, and (3) the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was put forward as a means to increase education efforts on climate change in schools around the world.

Strides were also made on National Adaptation Plans. Several platforms for NAPs were established including the NAP Global Network and the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The biggest piece of the 2015 Paris Agreement is going to be country emissions targets. Each country will set their own target in an Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC). Major economies are expected to submit these targets soon, which will put forth their contribution to global emissions reductions. This is the corner stone for the 2015 Paris Agreement. This bottom up style agreement has the potential to involve every country on the planet. However, the question then becomes how to ratchet up ambition. That part will be worked out using the Multilateral Assessment (MA). The MA will hopefully be the mechanism to allow pressure on parties to raise ambition towards reducing carbon emissions. AILAC and European Union (EU) parties advocate for a full on review of every countries’ INDC, while China, India and the Like Minded Developing Countries do not favor any public review of the contributions. This will be an important piece of the negotiations to follow through Paris, 2015.

Finally, the 2013-2015 Review met during COP 20 in Lima. This group is in charge of evaluating the adequacy of the 2°C goal as well as of party commitments. Part of this Review is the Structured Expert Dialogue (See my blog post from December 9th, 2014). They met twice with IPCC and other experts to discuss the adequacy of the goal, that is, if they ought to increase ambition to stay below 1.5°C warming. The dialogue will conclude in February, with a report coming out a few months after. It will be interesting to follow the conclusion of this process to see what inputs will be provided for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Here is a link to the Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text. This draft text must be finalized in June, 6 months before the meeting in Paris, to give parties sufficient time to review the text and make edits.

What actually happened at the COP?

Now that I’ve had a solid 4 weeks of relaxation (and transcribing interviews) since I got home from Peru and the COP, it’s time to begin thinking about school again, and as such, I’ve decided to reflect on the COP with a blog post.

I never actually stopped thinking about the COP, or at least climate change. Every time my mom made me a home-cooked meal, or I was out driving somewhere or eating with friends, I couldn’t help but think about the effect my actions were having on the climate. Something as simple as eating, and I couldn’t help but think about the emissions that went into putting a simple pizza on my plate! And Christmas was horrible, especially after hearing dozens of people talking about how we need to turn away from being such a consumer culture. I had already told my mom I didn’t really want to make a big deal about Christmas, but even so, it was still a huge operation, albeit less so than in past years.


But to get back to the topic at hand, in the weeks and months leading up to COP20, you could hear people such as Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, stressing the importance of this COP. In September, thousands of people worldwide took to the streets to take action. In New York City alone, more than 300,000 people took to the streets to demand action from those taking part in the New York Climate Summit, happening during the same time, with companies and investors declaring their commitment to a low-carbon world. The momentum leading up to this COP was amazing.


And it was deserved, too. COP20 in Lima was very important, as it would lay the groundwork for negotiations to take place in Paris the next year for COP21, which would be even more important as the Paris COP, where governments will attempt to reach a universal climate agreement. But, being at COP20, there’s so much going on that it’s hard to catch what’s actually going on in the main negotiations. I don’t think I actually knew what had come out of Lima until I came home. So here I will try to show some important things that came out of the Lima negotiations:


First of all, a draft text was decided on that will be used in negotiations leading up to Paris. Over 100 countries are now advocating for a long-term mitigation goal, which is a good sign, and there is also good support for review cycles to strengthen emission reduction actions and support low-carbon growth.


In terms of the INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are to be submitted by March of this year (2015), proposed contributions will require information concerning the sectors and the gases covered, in addition to accounting approaches. The Lima decisions also allows for an analysis to be published by the UNFCCC aggregating all the contributions and reviewing how well they add up to staying below the 2 degrees Celsius marker.


Some progress was made on finance, which is a huge part of the climate negotiations. Contributions to the Green Climate Fund surpassed $10 billion, with 27 developed and 5 developing countries pledging money, giving a strong foundation to the GCF. Even with this, though, there is still much to be done on finance for crafting a post-2020 regime. The Lima decision urges developed countries to provide support, not necessarily finance, to developing countries, and the COP did request that developed countries help to “enhance the available quantitative and qualitative elements of a pathway,” but there is still much to be done in terms of specification in the Paris agreement about allocation and levels of finance, etc., in the post-2020 world.


One disagreement between developed and developing countries is about the attention that should be paid to adaptation (something I didn’t know until transcribing interviews). Developed countries believe negotiations should be focused on mitigation mainly, while developing countries want an equal focus on adaptation. Lima saw more attention paid to adaptation than previous COPs, with developing countries pushing for equal billing of adaptation in the Paris agreement. Many developed countries wanted to limit national contributions to mitigation only, but with the world already facing record-breaking floods and heat waves, developing countries were able to get adaptation included, albeit without much guidance on what information will be provided, and how these contributions will be assessed.


In addition to this, the process of how national adaptation planning is reported was improved, and there is now a work plan focusing on loss and damage.


Although much focus has been paid to a post-2020 agreement, the year is 2015, which means we have 5 years until that agreement would take hold. As such, negotiations also focused on pre-2020 actions. Countries will continue to share experiences curbing emissions, identify best policy actions, and continue expert meetings about actions through 2020.


Forests and reforestation, including REDD+, was also a talking point, due to the COP being held in a country with extensive forests. Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Guyana, Mexico and Malaysia all submitted reference levels benchmarking their emissions from deforestation, which paves the way to start receiving performance based payments for forest conservation and restoration. At the Global Landscapes Forum, Initiative 20×20 was launched, a Latin American country-led initiative to restore 20 million hectares of degraded forestland. Five impact investment firms pledged $365 million to recover cloud forests, avoid deforestation and boost climate-resilient agriculture. Also, advances in satellite forest monitoring and carbon mapping were announced in Lima.


But inside the COP, the focus on REDD+ was mainly on clarifying safeguards. Countries ended up not elaborating more on the safeguards, meaning countries can decide for themselves how to report on safeguards; disappointing for me as this is a topic which I got interested down in Lima, and this development is not something that will be good for many indigenous forest dwelling peoples.


Outside of these things, many cities including Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Tokyo highlighted best practices and pushed for greater action at the international level. Also, the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories was announced. The first step of this is to identify and measure where city emissions come from through the use of the first global emissions standards for cities to track performance and set credible targets.


A lot of good stuff came out of COP20, but it is much weaker than what many people were hoping for. There is still a lot to be done in the coming year leading up to COP21, which will be crucial in keeping our world below 2 degrees Celsius. With so many countries and so many different viewpoints that need to be addressed to solve such a huge and time-sensitive problem, it’s very hard to stay optimistic, especially with so many people saying that we won’t be able to skirt disaster, but we’ve all got to try and keep on working to do what we can to avoid potential disaster.



Gas Price Fantasy

Picture from
Picture from

No one who drives a car that uses gas can ignore the HUGE drop in gas prices over the holidays this year. In retail, “we had Christmas for the first time in 4 years” as my boss at The Sojourner in Lambertville told customers. She attributed everyone’s open purses to the drop in gas prices, giving people a little wiggle room in their budget.

Starting my holiday season with a trip to Lima for COP 20, I had this day dream in my mind when conversations would shift to gas prices coming under $2 in Flemington. The basic laws of economics attribute a price drop to an increase in supply relative to demand. What if demand dropped because COP 20 was so successful? What if so much progress was made with countries’ reducing carbon emissions that oil companies got scared and dropped their prices, hoping to sell supplies before countries drastically decrease their fossil fuel demand. This was the kind of change I pictured we’d need in order to make even a two-degree goal like discussed in Lima.

The realistic me knows that such a change is ridiculous but optimistic me could not bring myself to research the real reason prices kept sinking. CNN Money attributes the drop to OPEC refusing to drop production related to demand because of slowing economies in Asia and Europe, increased U.S. domestic oil production, better fuel-efficient vehicles, and a stronger dollar (Isidore).

With Isidore’s reasoning, the COP 20 was not only less productive than I had hoped, but emission targets run into a new danger. With low gas prices predicted to keep dropping, the financial benefits of more carbon-neutral technologies like electric cars and solar heating disappear. If economically it is so cheap to run on gas, those less environmentally-conscious will have little reason to lead a more carbon-neutral life.  I had hoped that high prices would push U.S. consumers to move away from fossil fuels even if the country’s UNFCCC record is poor, but now this seems impossible. We can only hope renewables will drop quickly as well to increase their competitiveness, because whether we like it or not, people are consumers first and foremost, and thus are driven by prices.

Post COP Commentary


“I attended a United Nations Conference on Climate Change.” I have said this sentence many times over the weeks following COP20 in Lima, to friends, family, and random aquaintences that asked why I spent the three weeks following thanksgiving in Peru. “Afterwards, we traveled both as a group and individually; so I got to go to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and then Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.” My response when asked what I did with the rest of my time in South America. All-in-all not a very causal conversation, but one I am fortunate enough to get to have.

However, I learned to use only this exchange after several failed attempts to explain the trip. Upon returning home I was frankly shocked at just how few people I talked to that had never heard of the conference, let alone knew that it was an anual event happening then. Initially I responded to the  inevitable, “So what did you do in Peru?” with, “I was at COP20 doing research with my school.” Confused faces egged me to elaborate, “You know the UNFCCC conference?” (always said as “UNF triple C” because as Neil taught us, only dweebs would say C three times). This never worked so I would continue with something like, “Remember the Copenhangen Conference a few years ago? Or maybe the Kyoto Protocol? It was like that but this year’s conference in Peru.” Sometimes this would work, however, I have a suspicion that many of them who just smiled and nodded with some vaguely affirmative phrase, did so not in understanding but as a means to change the course of conversation to a more familiar topic.

After a full semester of nothing but talk of the climate change and the UNFCCC, I had forgotten that just a few short months ago I too would have been equally unaware of what happened in Lima. Finally, my family confronted me saying I needed to find a way to explain what I did in a way that would allow people to understand.

However, I was talking to people who know at least the basics of what is happening with climate change, have maybe even read an Inconvenient Truth or the Omnivore’s Dilemma, fully believe the science, and furthermore, enjoy following world news and current events. They were aware of China- US deal to curb emissions and yet, only a few had even heard of the UNFCCC, or COP, and were able to converse about what happened in Peru. If even the people who are well educated, generally aware and genuinely care about climate change are not well informed of a hugely important and impactful process, how are world leaders supposed to feel a great pressure to make real progress? In not throughly and consistently covering what happened in Lima at the larger news outlets and mainstream media there is an immense disservice to both the public and the UNFCCC process.  I noticed a lack of conversation about Lima even from the many environmental organizations I receive emails from. I usually have an inbox full of updates, petitions, and information about how to get involved in important environmental battles. Yet, nowhere did I see this type of awareness raising or request from their constituents to press for international cooperation and action to come out of COP20.

Obviously the uphill battle of climate change cannot be won if we focus exclusively on the UNFCCC or the outcomes of a COP. The issue is complex and requires action on individual, local and domestic levels as well. However, we need to fight on every front possible, especially the international level, to stand a chance. I believe that by essentially ignoring it, we are all but surrendering.




COP20 was a whirlwind of activities, events, demonstrations and contacts. From the onset I felt like it was a race to be able to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. We began each day emailing our contacts from the day before (if the WiFi permitted), following up with meeting times, thanking them for their time and information or persisting with the plea for an interview. Then, what I found to be the most challenging, was planning the day. The apps we downloaded onto our phones were largely inaccurate when it came to times and locations for side events and press meetings (they were often changed last minute). Neither did they seem to include the full range different things going on.  However, there were moniters that helped with that. From there the day was ours to explore and learn.

Each day involved some combination of side events, the Climate Action Network’s updates, and interviews. I personally loved attending side events. My research topic is about how agriculture is being discussed in negotiations. I chose this area of study because of a personal passion for the agricultural and food system. So, I was fascinated with the panelists, and experts that shed light onto the issue. Attending the events also made it easy to find excellent people to interview.

The Climate Action Network (CAN) had wonderful updates on the conference that synthesised what was happening behind closed doors and what we, as participants, should watch out for. The image on the left was taken at one of these updates. The image on the right is of our interview with Jeff, asking about his experience in Lima.






The most important man at the COP you don’t know: Andreas Fischlin

Andreas Fischlin, a Swiss native, is the co-chair of the SED. He has been conducting the conversations and deliberations of the SED and the corresponding contact group. He has been able to keep the Review on track and moving forward effectively.

Andreas Fischlib (left) and Zou Li (right) are leading the Structured Expert Dialogue
Andreas Fischlib (left) and Zou Li (right) are leading the Structured Expert Dialogue

He will ultimately be tasked with compiling the information gathered in the Review into a synthesis report, which will be approved by parties for an input to the Paris Agreement. This Review and synthesis report has major repercussions for ambition. If Fischlin is able to close out the report in such a way that parties agree to lower the temperature limit to 1.5˚C, this would be a call for immediate and strong ambition in a Paris Agreement. We know that we are already committed to 1.4˚C warming, but the question remains, how much more than that will occur? Can Fischlin get parties to agree to raise ambition? We will find out by June when the Review submits the final conclusions to the SBI and SBSTA.

Voces por el clima


I was a member of the second group (lead by the fearless Jeff Niemitz) that attended Voces por el clima the first week and the real-deal COP20 the second week. I like to think as Voces as an excellent learning experience, and a great trial run before we got to the UNFCCC conference. The event was almost entirely dedicated to teaching climate change, because we spent the entire semester learning about climate change, personally, the biggest learning aspect of Voces came from learning to approach people, and improving my Spanish ability. That being said, Voces was filled with knowledgeable people and amazing art expressing the issue of climate change from a personal, abstract and human perspective. There were excellent photographs capturing sea level rise across the globe (they seemed to me to parallel James Balog’s work with glaciers), sculptures made from recycled material, and art lining the road to the main area.

Liz Plascencia and I teamed up, at first going around to the different booths (skipping the shameless Coca-Cola booth dedicated to green-washing and advertising) interviewing people from organizations that were relevant to our topics. However, once that tactic was exhausted we had to figure out a new method to find people that would be relevant to interview out of a seemingly random crowd. In the end we developed a scorched earth like tactic at Voces, we honed in on anyone we thought was a delegate and asked for an interview. The key was in the badges they wore: if it was pink (signifying delegate) we attacked. Initially we attempted small talk, trying to figure out what they did and specialized in specifically, before we asked for an interview. This proved less effective than just going straight for the gold and we transitioned to a more direct approach. In the end this method acquired us some lucrative interviews, with minimal complete busts. When we eventually arrived at COP, I felt very confident and comfortable talking to delegates.IMG_3596IMG_3623

Voces was certainly an informational place to be… especially if you spoke Spanish. Due to the fact Voces was largely centered on what Peru, and other Latin American countries are doing to combat climate change the majority of people there were exclusively Spanish speakers. While I have taken Spanish for many years and am proficient in the language, it certainly helped to team up with Liz (a native Spanish speaker) for interviews. After Voces por el clima my Spanish has never been better.


Pope Francis Addresses Climate Change


By Maeve Hogel

Whether you are religious or not, Pope Francis’ climate plans for 2015 brings together religion and science, two topics that are often seen as conflicting by nature. According to the Guardian, the Pope hopes to be more involved in climate negotiations next year in Paris. However, what is it exactly that the Pope can bring to the table for international negotiations? 1.2 billion Catholic followers (just under the population of China and three times the population of the United States). I never stopped to consider the role of religion in mitigating climate change, but Pope Francis’ statements, asking Catholics worldwide to preserve and protect the environment have certainly gotten a lot of attention.

Of course these statements haven’t been supported by everyone. Fox News reports claim that the climate change argument has weakened over the past two decades and that the Pope is putting himself at risk for making enemies.

As we head into 2015, it will be interesting to see if religious leaders will begin to take more of a stance on climate change.


Fossil of the Day: Who was Bad, Who was Worse?

fossil poster

By Maeve Hogel

It is hard to believe it has already been two weeks since our time at the COP ended. It was a hectic and incredible experience every day. There were always several events or meetings going on at once and we constantly found ourselves running from one to the next. However, my personal favorite part of each day at the COP was reading the ECO newsletter which was handed out as you walked into the venue each morning. The newsletter was one page, front and back, and it had several different articles about negotiations or other big things going on at the COP. It was the perfect way to stay updated on everything that had happened the day before, since obviously we can’t be in every meeting or negotiation ourselves.

At the very end of the newsletter was a section called the Fossil of the Day Award. This award, given out by CAN International, was announced every day in the early evening. Its given to a country that is viewed as not doing their full part in the conference that day. There is a ceremony that goes a long with the award, including the playing of the Jurassic Park theme song. The Fossil of the Day Award is a great way to call out countries to do more.

On the last day, CAN gave out the Colossal Fossil, or the Fossil of the Year award, to Australia. Australia received 5 Fossil of the Day awards in the two weeks of the conference. You can watch the last Fossil of the Day below:

Check out all of the Fossil of the Day Awards here!